DESERT MEMORIES: Journeys Through the Chilean North

Ariel Dorfman, Author . National Geographic Directions $21 (283p) ISBN 978-0-7922-6240-4

Prolific Chilean writer Dorfman and his wife, Angélica, travel north from Santiago, Chile, through the world's driest desert, the Atacama, an area where two millimeters of rain can cause a deadly mudslide. In recounting his journey "to the origins," Dorfman brings elements from his broad range as a writer. Dorfman the journalist weaves encyclopedic information into his text (e.g., facts on Monte Verde, possibly "the oldest settlement ever discovered in the Americas"), while Dorfman the poet gives color to the desert ("a dizzying array of browns and grays and terra-cottas") and vitality to places like Pampa Unión, once "a town of brothels and bars, opium dens and gambling joints, a town only visited now by the whirlwinds and the shifting sands." As Angélica searches for truths about her family history, Dorfman the novelist unravels the labyrinthine tale along with her. The playwright, a keen listener, lets diverse others tell much of the tale, including a "gathering of elderly pampinos," novelist Hernán Rivera Letelier and archeologist Lautaro Núñez. Throughout the three-week trip, Dorfman the human rights activist foregrounds the figure of the desaparecido as he searches for "the disappeared body" of his friend Freddy Taberna. Archeology and astronomy, history and legend, intimate detail and public policy, relics from 50,000 years ago and mass graves from three decades ago are joined in this compelling trek. Readers whose baggage includes, as Dorfman's did at the beginning, "a deep-seated prejudice against deserts in general" will change their tune as they travel through this book, which entertains, informs and deeply engages. Map, 23 b&w photos. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 09/08/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
Open Ebook - 130 pages - 978-1-4262-0902-4
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